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17 Traditional Colombian Dishes To Try

Colombia has some of the most popular dishes in Latin America, gifting the world with exquisite fare like the famous Bandeja Paisa,  soups, like Ajiaco and Sancocho, and even unique sweets like Cholado. 

Colombian empanada with spicy sauce on wooden background

Colombian cuisine combines local ingredients to create deliciously filling meals that satisfy your stomach and taste buds. 

Following, I’ll be ranking the 17 most popular Colombian foods. You can find some of these foods throughout Colombia, while others are only popular in specific regions. 

The magic of Colombian recipes is that they only require simple ingredients, which are usually easy to find, either at your local grocery or online. 

Popular Colombian Foods

If you’re not fortunate enough to have an authentic Colombian restaurant near your home, many of these dishes are also relatively easy to make on your own with a little help from popular YouTube channels like My Colombian Recipes or bloggers like My Colombian Cocina.

Ajiaco

Ajiaco is popular throughout Colombia, but especially in the capital, Bogotá.

It’s perfect for Bogotá’s chilly and often cloudy climate – a bowl of Ajiaco is soothing, warming, and delightful for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Ajiaco typically contains small pieces of chicken and vegetables such as:

Perhaps most iconically, Colombians put an entire piece of corn on the cob in the dish. Cooking it together with the other ingredients adds a unique flavor. 

Add a few capers and some sour cream if you want to eat Ajiaco like a real Colombian. 

I like eating Ajiaco with avocado to provide a bit of healthy fat. Add an arepa, a slice of Platano Maduro, and some rice, and you’ve got yourself a traditional Colombian meal. 


Bandeja Paisa

While Colombians associate Ajiaco with the capital region, the Bandeja Paisa, Colombia’s national dish, comes from the capital’s rival city: Medellín. 

In any case, the Bandeja Paisa is simply mouthwatering. It’s a massive platter that combines the best of what Colombian cuisine has to offer. 

While it’s traditional as a breakfast meal, it might be a bit too heavy for anyone used to light breakfasts. I find that it works great as a lunch, too. 

The Bandeja Paisa platter consists of: 

  • Red beans
  • White rice
  • Ground meat or steak
  • Chorizo
  • Platano Maduro, or ripened plantains
  • Fried egg
  • Chicharron
  • Arepa
  • Avocado
  • Lemon for seasoning

There are some slight variations – for example, some people use chicken instead of beef. 


Sancocho

Sancocho is a soup that Colombians all over the country consume regularly. It’s typically eaten together with lunch, or “almuerzo.” 

While Sancocho is not a uniquely Colombian dish (you can also find it in countries like the Dominican Republic), the Colombian version has some unique twists. 

Sancocho contains many more ingredients than Ajiaco, and it’s not limited to chicken – I’ve even had a fish sancocho. 

Whether you use a whole chicken or fish, the other ingredients include: 

  • Potatoes
  • Scallions
  • Corn
  • Yuca
  • Garlic
  • Seasonings

Yuca (cassava) is a ubiquitous root vegetable in Colombian cuisine. 

Many Colombians also add plantain or even bananas to the mix. Bananas in soups are something that you’ll only find in Colombia!


Lechona

Do you love pork? Then you’ll love Lechona, which the Tolima department of Colombia has made famous. 

To make Lechona, Colombians roast a hollowed-out pig over a fire for hours – sometimes up to 12 hours. They stuff the pig with a unique filling made of: 

  • Pig fat
  • Yellow peas
  • Rice
  • Spices
  • Potatoes

You can eat Lechona together with an arepa. It’s usually more expensive than traditional Colombian food due to the amount of time it takes to prepare it, but it packs a lot of flavors and is famous all over the country. 


Arepa

The humble arepa is uniquely Colombian, although Venezuelans have their version.

It’s a thin bread consisting of cornmeal, although it comes in several styles, some thicker than others. 

Colombians eat arepas as an addition to their meals. It’s great for scooping up some beans

Some arepas, though, contain cheese, sugar, and wheat – I like eating those plain or with cheese. 

In Colombian restaurants, you’ll also find arepas as snacks. You can slice them open and stuff them with plain cheese, chicken, beef, chorizo, beans, avocado, plantain, or some combination of several ingredients. You then top them off with ketchup and all kinds of sauces. 


Cazuela De Mariscos

Seafood is prevalent in Colombian coastal cities like Cartagena.

Costeños (Colombians from the coastal region) have a unique cuisine, which is a mix of different cultures and influences.

One of the most popular dishes from the coastal area is the seafood casserole. 

This heavy stew contains ingredients like: 

  • Fish
  • Clams
  • Lobster
  • Shrimp
  • Prawns
  • Squid
  • Vegetables
  • Spices

It tastes best when the chef uses fresh ingredients. Some variations call for cooking it in coconut milk, adding a uniquely tropical flavor. 


Pan de Bono

I’ve talked a lot about Colombian meals, but the country also has plenty of excellent snacks and desserts, and Pan de Bono is one.

You’ll find Pan de Bono in bakeries all over Colombia. 

The Pan de Bono is a Colombian donut, but it uses cassava flour, making it naturally gluten-free. It also contains cheese, eggs, and sugar. In some parts of the country, it might have some sweet guava jam inside. 

I like eating a few Pan de Bonos with a hot cup of Colombian coffee, which balances out the intensely sweet flavor. Even though it’s not particularly good for you, it’s terribly addictive!


Empanadas

Empanadas are popular snacks throughout Colombian and Latin America.

You can grab a few for breakfast or munch on an empanada in between meals or on the way home from work – the empanada is the ultimate Colombian street food. 

Usually, Colombians make their empanadas with cornmeal, and they deep-fry them, filling them with ingredients such as: 

  • Cheese
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Sausages
  • Vegetables
  • Rice
  • A mixture of ingredients

Colombians are liberal with their sauces when eating empanadas. The right way to eat an empanada is to bite from the top and pour some guacamole or ají (hot sauce) into the open hole. 

A different version, which is less common, consists of wheat flour and is baked instead of fried. 


Tamales

While you can find different versions of tamales across Latin America, Colombia has several unique versions.

The Colombian tamal is filling and hearty and a meal in its own right. With a cup of “Cafe con Leche,” it makes an excellent breakfast. 

The Colombian tamal is a mixture of cornmeal, rice, meat, and vegetables. The mass of cornmeal and rice typically contains beef, pork, or chicken hidden inside. You might also find chickpeas in the mix, depending on the version. 

What makes tamales unique is that they are steamed in plantain leaves for an hour or more. The plantain leaves help them stay warm, making them easy to transport. 


Obleas

While people all over Spain and Latin America eat obleas, they are Colombian in origin. 

Obleas are two thin wafers with Dulce de Leche in between. Dulce de Leche is caramelized milk, and it’s popular all over South America. 

Some versions may contain jam, whipped cream, fruits, and other fillings, but I prefer to keep it simple.

The combination of crisp, buttery wafers and decadent caramel is irresistible!


Aborrajado

Colombians love cheese, and the most popular Colombian foods typically include queso in some form.

Aborrajado is one of my favorite examples of the country’s passion for this creamy, melty dairy product. 

The Aborrajado is ripe plantain stuffed with cheese and fried in batter. The batter usually contains flour, sugar, salt, milk, and eggs. 

It’s pretty simple to make, and it’s delicious but heavy. There’s something special about biting into a fried plantain and feeling the cheese ooze out in your mouth!


Arepa de Huevo

Most of the time, Colombians eat an arepa plain, with a meal, or with stuffings. However, a unique version is the Arepa de Huevo (egg arepa). 

Unlike a traditional arepa filled with scrambled eggs, this recipe calls for the dough to be deep-fried in oil with an egg inside instead of cooked on a pan or over a fire.

Some more adventurous chefs may add additional ingredients, like ground beef or even small pieces of chorizo. 

You’ll find it at street stalls throughout Colombia. It makes for a great breakfast snack, providing a bit of protein to start the day.

Don’t confuse the Arepa de Huevo with the empanada. They look very different, as the Arepa de Huevo is rounder and a lot larger. It also typically contains a whole egg, which empanadas rarely do. 


Caldo De Costilla

Caldo de Costilla is a simple but hearty breakfast soup. It’s from the Andean region of Colombia and is very popular in the capital, where you will find it in traditional restaurants offering it in the morning.

The soup consists of a few essential ingredients: 

  • Beef ribs
  • Potatoes
  • Scallions
  • Cilantro
  • Carrots
  • Spices or beef broth mixture

The potatoes add carbs, giving you energy, while the beef ribs provide you with protein and fill you up until lunchtime.

The soup can cook for over an hour until ready, allowing the broth to soak in the flavor from the various ingredients. 

I find it easiest to eat the soup with a spoon but eat the beef ribs with my hands. 

Similar recipes include Caldo de Pescado (fish soup) and Caldo de Pollo (chicken soup). 


Calentado

A Calentado is a mixture of rice, beans, sausages, and beef, complete with cilantro and other spices. Typically, Colombians serve the Calentado topped with a fried egg. 

Sometimes, pasta or lentils are added to the mix or used instead of beans.

Colombians have traditionally eaten the Calentado for breakfast, using leftovers from the previous day’s meals.

Nowadays, you’ll find Colombian restaurants serving it as a delicacy of its own right. It’s relatively simple but cheap, filling, and nutritious. 


Mote de Queso

Mote de Queso is a type of Colombian cheese soup. It uses traditional Queso Costeño (literally “coastal cheese”), popular on the Colombian coast. 

You won’t find Mote de Queso in all parts of the country. However, many Colombian restaurants around the world serve it. 

Ingredients include salted cheese, yam, garlic, lemon, parsley, salt, and pepper. It sounds relatively simple, but prepare to have your taste buds get pleasantly surprised. 


Cholado

Cholado is a fruit cup that originates from Valle del Cauca. However, you’ll find street vendors selling it all over the country, including in major cities like Bogotá and Medellín. 

Cholado is no ordinary fruit cup. To start, it uses cut fruit such as banana, papaya, apple, kiwi, strawberry, pineapple, soursop, and all kinds of juicy tropical fruits that will make your taste buds explode. 

Colombians then top that off with Leche Condensada, or condensed milk, gooey and sweet. You’ll also find wafers in the cup, alongside fruit syrup and shaved ice. 

Some Colombians even add shredded cheese on top. I told you that Colombians are obsessed with cheese! 

Street vendors will typically sell these cups individually, with the exact additions you want, giving you a toothpick or small fork to eat with. It’s the perfect snack on a hot day. 


Chocolate Santafereño

Hot chocolate and cheese is a unique combination that you will find only in Colombia.

It’s a typical breakfast in Colombia, especially in the colder mountainous areas, as it wakes you up and provides a hearty meal to start your day. 

It’s how it sounds: a cup of hot chocolate with melted cheese inside. Colombians typically make this at home or buy it from street vendors. 

The type of cheese matters, though. Typically, I use a block of mozzarella, Queso Campesino, or Queso Doble Crema. Those cheeses melt while you drink your sizzling cup of hot chocolate, and you can scoop it out with a fork or spoon while drinking it. 

The rest is up to you. Traditionally, Colombian hot chocolate uses dark chocolate blocks melted in a pot. Some add Panela, or sugar mixed with cinnamon, to sweeten it up.

Some use milk, while others don’t. The most important thing is the cheese, though, which makes it unique. 


Popular Colombian Foods

  1. Ajiaco
  2. Bandeja Paisa
  3. Sancocho
  4. Lechona
  5. Arepa
  6. Cazuela De Mariscos
  7. Pan de Bono
  8. Empanadas
  9. Tamales
  10. Obleas
  11. Aborrajado
  12. Arepa de huevo
  13. Caldo De Costilla
  14. Calentado
  15. Mote de Queso
  16. Cholado
  17. Chocolate Santafereño

Final Thoughts

Colombian food is rich and varied. From greasy snacks to sugary pastries to filling meals, you’ll never get tired of eating Colombian food, regardless of the time of the day it is. 

One thing that you will notice about most popular Colombian foods, though, is that they are meat- and cheese-heavy, although vegan options do exist. 

Learn about other cultural cuisines like popular Korean foods or traditional Lebanese dishes!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.